• A Sudden Light Interior

The Highlands

innis-ardenI grew up in Innis Arden, a community just north of the Seattle city limit. It is also just north of the exclusive gated community known as The Highlands, on which I based the fictionalized setting of A Sudden Light.

Our family lived on the dark side of Innis Arden, meaning we didn’t have a view of Puget Sound or the Olympic Mountains like the houses on the Puget Sound side. We had a view of trees. Trees, trees, and more trees. And we had Boeing Creek, which was better for a kid than a view of water and mountains anyway. Because sometimes, if a kid found the right spot, he could peer through the trees in the ravine and catch a glimpse of the Boeing mansion, situated on a bluff in The Highlands.

It’s true that William E. Boeing built a mansion in The Highlands, but I don’t know if any of the massive houses we could see from the creek were once his, or if they belonged to other heirs of the founders of Seattle. But I do know that I spent much of my childhood getting into mischief down at the creek that separated us from The Highlands. I was something of a fire-worshipper as a kid, and I was devoted to lighting fires of all of kinds—setting flame to turpentine soaked army tanks, starting small bonfires, or lighting off firecrackers I had illegally procured. The creek afforded me the remoteness I needed to indulge in my passion with great zeal.

It’s clear to me that the combined forces of fire, overgrown forests, hidden creeks, and mansions on bluffs affected me profoundly; something about these connections compelled me to write a play in 2004, titled The Burning. It was about a mansion and a dancing ghost. But more than that, it was about a history. A legacy. A legacy that burdened a family so heavily, nothing but the utter annihilation of the mansion could free them.

The play was produced in 2005 under the title, Brother Jones, at the Lyric Hyperion Theater in Los Angeles. It was raw. It needed work. But there were moments when the audience was completely consumed by the drama and I could hear them gasp in surprise, laugh with relief, and wince in discomfort. I had tapped into something, but I was yet unaware of the extent of my story.

After The Art of Racing in the Rain was published, I knew two things. I knew that some people expected me to write a book about a cat that wanted to fly airplanes, and I knew I wasn’t going to write anything like that.

I had a feeling that the story of Brother Jones and his family was much deeper than the story I had found thus far. If I could explore those depths, I hoped—I believed!—I would discover a richness that was worth sharing with others. And so A Sudden Light was born.